At the same time, by exposing themselves to new industries and roles, students make themselves more marketable to employers. And employers are obviously impressed. In the latest U.S. News rankings, Harvard produced a 95.0% nine-month placement rate, with private sector graduates earning an average starting salary of $160,000.
HARVARD POLICIES HELP POTENTIAL STUDENTS WORK BEFORE RETURNING
Professors have also noticed a big difference between grads who’ve worked and those who’ve enrolled in law school immediately after graduation. In the experience of Richard Fallon, who has taught constitutional courses at Harvard Law for over 30 years, students with work experience add greater value to classroom discussion. “Disproportionately the students that I have thought the best and most interesting were students who had some time out,” he tells The Crimson.
Richard Lazarus, an admissions committee member who teaches environment law, admits that strong work experience works to a candidate’s advantage. “At some point,” he admits, “I’ll start to discount the GPA, or I’ll start to discount the LSAT, because I actually see that they’re very serious about what it is, and they’re not just writing an essay. Anyone can write an essay.”
Getting into Harvard Law isn’t easy. Last year, the school only accepted 15.4% of the nearly 6,000 candidates who applied. And those who entered carried a median LSAT of 173 and a median undergraduate GPA of 3.87. Facing such strong competition, some students likely worry about falling behind – or scoring lower on the LSAT – by taking a few years away to work.
To placate such fears, the school introduced its Junior Deferral program for Harvard undergrads in 2013. According to the terms, juniors can apply – and be accepted – into the law school under the condition that they must work for at least two years before returning to campus. In fact, Sobon encourages students to take advantage of this avenue, provided they use the time away to work or study in graduate school.
A GRADUATE’S PERSPECTIVE
Shawn O’Connor graduated from both Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School. Currently the head of Stratus Prep, a leading test preparation and admissions consulting firm, O’Connor spent four years working after graduating from Georgetown in 1999. During that time, he served as a Fulbright Scholar where he researched New Social Movement Theory. He also worked for the State Department as a contract political and economic analyst in Quito, Ecuador, as well as serving in the Governor’s Administration in Pennsylvania. Before starting law school, he worked in management consulting and even launched a startup.
Looking back, O’Connor considers himself a “strong proponent” of taking a year or two off between undergrad and graduate school. While he notes that some students may find it difficult to get into the academic mindset after being out of school, he believes the benefits far outweigh any drawback.
“I believe that my business and global experience provided a unique perspective that I brought with me to the Harvard Law and Business School,” he tells Tipping the Scales. “I was better able to contextualize the cases we were studying and more effectively relate to the clients I served during my summer internships. Finally, I was able to put the stress of 1L year into perspective given my “real world” experience.”
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